페이지 이미지



"auld respectit mither" "The Waes of War" — a simple strain, yet full of pathetic truth, and which found its way to the hearts of his countrymen. Alexander Wilson, the pedlar and ornithologist, was perhaps better as either than as poet; but he possessed energy and enterprise, and some of his effusions evince not a little of the shrewd pawkiness of the "west countrie." The genius of Tannahill-for he was a genius of a higher cast, although he wanted the resolution and firmness which the explorer of the American woods rejoiced inshowed itself in some exquisite lyrics that seemed to set themselves to music-as "The Flower of Dunblane," "The Braes of Balquhidder," and "Gloomy Winter" -none of which were unworthy of Burns himself. Richard Gall, who followed more directly in the wake of Fergusson, produced at least two good things-" The Farewell to Ayrshire," and "My only Joe and Dearie." John Mayne, in his "Logan Braes" and his "Siller Gun," showed how deeply the associations of his native land had taken hold of his susceptible heart and glowing fancy. Sir Alexander Boswell-the son of Samuel Johnson's "Bozzy"—had contributed his "Jenny dang the Weaver," as also the same accommodating damsel's "Bawbee;" and to separate happy effusions were attached the signatures of William Laidlaw, Thomas Cunningham, James Hislop, William Nicolson, and Joseph Train. Two names, however-those of James Hogg and Allan Cunningham-demand something more than mere passing notice, as men of high original genius:

Plain his garb,

Such as might suit a rustic sire prepared

For Sabbath duties; yet he is a man

Whom no one could have passed without remark,—

Active and nervous is his gait. His limbs

And his whole figure, breathe intelligence."

Such is the portrait drawn by William Wordsworth of

[blocks in formation]

his pedlar, the hero of "The Excursion;" and, with very small wresting, the outlines may be made to apply to James Hogg, the scarcely less wonderful Ettrick Shepherd.

There are some miscellaneous writers, as John Bunyan, Isaac Walton, Sir Philip Sidney, Benjamin Franklin, Rousseau, and Benvenuto Cellini-and some poets, as Tasso, Petrarcha, and Alfieri, as Burns, Byron, and Hogg, whose lives are interwoven with or constitute a running commentary on their works; so much so, that it is impossible to come to a perfect understanding of the one without reference to the other. This is a critical privilege, however, which ought to be ever sparingly used and delicately resorted to-indeed never, save when countenanced by the plea of necessity. But with Hogg as his own repeated autobiographer, and who seems to have courted rather than repelled the license, there can be no trespass.

The intellectual history of James Hogg is certainly one of the most curious that our age has presented; and when we consider what an unlettered peasant was able to achieve by the mere enthusiasm of his genius, we are entitled to marvel certainly not that his writings should be full of blemishes, but that his mind ever had power to burst through the Cimmerian gloom in which his earlier years seemed so hopelessly enveloped.

The school education of the author of "The Queen's Wake" may be discussed in a few words, and in none more characteristic than those of the Shepherd himself. Be it remembered that he was then six years old. "The school-house," he says, "being almost at our door, I had attended it for a short time, and had the honour of standing at the head of a juvenile class, who read the Shorter Catechism and Proverbs of Solomon.

Next year my parents took me home during the winter quarter service (as a cow-herd), and put me to school with a lad named Kerr, who was teaching the children



of a neighbouring farmer. Here I advanced so far as to get into the class who read the Bible. I had likewise, some time before my quarter was out, tried writing, and had horribly defiled several sheets of paper with copylines, every letter of which was nearly an inch in length. Thus terminated my education. After this I was never another day at any school whatever. In all, I had spent about half-a-year at it. It is true, my former master denied me, and, when I was about twenty years of age, said, if he was called to make oath, he would swear I never was at his school. However, I know I was at it for two or three months; and I do not choose to be deprived of the honour of having attended the school of my native parish, nor yet that old John Beattie should lose the honour of such a scholar." This really reminds one of the story of the foundling hero of one of Goldsmith's inimitable Essays, who was disclaimed by parish after parish, until the poor fellow began to fear that they were to come to a determination that he had been born in no parish at all-in fact, that he was a Utopian impostor.

After a boyhood of poverty, half-starvation, and labour, the shepherd-poet in embryo found himself at length aged fourteen, and the possessor of five shillings -with which he bought a fiddle (!!!) over the catgut of which he kept sawing Scottish tunes, for two or three hours ever night, after retiring to his roost in the lofts of the cow-house, where the discord could molest nobody save himself-an antitype of Orpheus-and the rats. Hogg relates of himself, that the perusal of "Burnet's Theory of Comets" produced a wonderful effect on his boyish imagination; set him pondering all the day on the grand Millennium and the reign of saints, and dreaming all the night of " a new heavens and a new earth," "the stars in horror, and the world in flames." Before this, he had read "The Life of Wallace," and Ramsay's "Gentle Shepherd," spelling the longer words as he went

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

along, and wishing both productions in prose, as the rhymes made him often lose the sense. It was not until his eighteenth year that he tried to write verses, and he acknowledges that his first attempts were "bitter bad." His genius, however, was prolific; and these, consisting of epistles, eclogues, comedies, and pastorals, so rapidly accumulated on his hands, that on one of his visits to the Edinburgh sheep-market he rashly adventured a small volume, which of course soon died off into silent hopeless oblivion. Some years after this hapless adventure of the Poems, the Shepherd's talents having attracted the attention of Mr Scott, that great poet encouraged him to the publication of his "Mountain Bard." As might have been expected from an imaginative mind yet mystified by the twilight of his situation, many of its pieces were also very paltry—although several bore indications of that grandeur of fancy which afterwards formed Hogg's chief distinction; nor do we think that he ever produced many finer things than his "Sir David Græme," and the fragment of "Lord Derwent."

"An Essay on Sheep," which gained a premium from the Highland Society, having put some money into his pocket, he contrived to lose it in some ruinous agricultural speculations; and, after several years of floundering, he resolved on the desperate enterprise of settling in Edinburgh—and as what? A literary adventurer. A collection of songs, under the title of "The Forest Minstrel," a volume of miscellaneous merit, created some little talk, but brought no golden harvest. His enthusiasm, however, continued unabated; and he possessed in a large degree that dogged confidence in his own abilities which could alone have carried him through his difficulties. Cast upon the ocean of literature-like Wordsworth's Highland boy in his tub-without rudder or compass, he felt that something behoved to be done -and that immediately. So he determined on a weekly



periodical, hight "The Spy," which was to be devoted to the enlightenment of the public in the niceties of morals, and the elegancies of polite literature. A Hottentot coming out in full fig as dancing-master could not have been a greater anomaly. Indeed, the Shepherd's qualifications for this self-imposed task may be guessed at from what he himself tells us. "At this

time I had never once been in any polished societyhad read next to none-was now in my thirty-eighth year-and knew no more of human manners than a child." The Spy, as might have been predicted of him, was therefore a sad nondescript as suspicious-looking a tatterdemalion as was ever rigged out from the Cowgate-not without occasional bursts, however, of natural cleverness and talent. Many of his Sybilline Leaves were racy and interesting; but, taken all in all, the stew thus cooked, and offered for Saturday consumption to the polite of the Modern Athens, was of such a miscellaneous and Irish character that few normal human stomachs could digest it. So the Spy was shortly given over as hopeless by his friends, and, evanishing from behind the foot-lamps of the literary stage, was heard of no more.

Harassed, dismayed, disappointed, and poor, Hogg now determined to brace himself up for a last great effort, and redeem that good opinion which a few sanguine friends yet strongly entertained of him. Nor did he disappoint them, for he produced "The Queen's Wake, " a poem of distinguished excellence; and which, bating a few verbal laxities, would do honour to any name in our literature, however high. Full of poetry and power, and of varied excellence, it is, at the same time, wonderfully free from those blemishes of coarseness, and of indifferent taste, which had unfortunately—but not miraculously-disfigured Hogg's former writings. By a great, a noble, and determined effort, he seemed to have got rid of all his trammels, and his muse

« 이전계속 »